Documentary follows Jeremiah Tower to his home in Mérida

The chef himself at work in “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent.” Photo: Courtesy

A documentary about one of Mérida’s most enigmatic expats was finally released to theaters last week, and critics are reporting on it favorably.

Lydia Tenaglia’s “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” centered on the legendary chef, is in New York theaters, but not yet in Yucatán. It was on the film festival circuit in 2016.

The film is only nominally about Tower’s culinary achievements, but more about his fame.

That said, a little context: In the 1970s and ’80s Tower was at the pinnacle of the Bay Area restaurant world because of his central role in Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and his founding of Stars in San Francisco, writes the Los Angeles Times. Without fear of contradiction, Martha Stewart calls him “a father of American cuisine.”

Did Tower out-and-out invent the “New American Cuisine”? Anthony Bourdain (who exec-produces), Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, and Ruth Reichl say he did. This attempts to settle the issue, although Che Panisse’s founder, Alice Waters, may dissent.

Now retired and living in Mérida, Tower “appears on camera in full Jean Cocteau-Gore Vidal-Paul Bowles exiled-genius mode,” writes the East Bay Express. On camera, Tower admits, “I seem to piss people off a lot.”

In the opening shots, Tower wanders through a maze of Mayan ruins. At home in Mérida, Tower is shown alone, with no one present besides shopkeepers in the markets. Humor intrudes occasionally, as when Tower recalls his campus “radicalism” during the Sixties – he fashioned a Molotov cocktail using an Hermès scarf as a wick, writer Kelly Vance notes.

Related: Jeremiah Tower doc nominated for James Beard Award

Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.
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